How Magazines Source Content in 2019
Freelancers who write, shoot, design, style, model, dance, paint faces and just about anything else can benefit from working with magazines. However, not every magazine operates in the same way. From independent passion products to international publications, the manner in which they engage with freelancers can vary dramatically. We spoke to a wide range of magazines across the travel, fashion, employment, and music industries to discuss their business model, their way of working with freelancers and what the future holds for the magazine industry.
Daina Renton, the Editor and Chief of independent magazine Feroce, an art, print on demand publication.
Alec Dudson, the Editor and Founder of independent magazine Intern, which started as a print publication and is now a digital platform created to empower the next generation of young creatives.
Tom Armstrong, the Editor and Founder of independent magazine MOVE, a print magazine and personal project which started as a celebration of underground music and club culture.
Olivia Squire, the Print Editor-in-Chief of independent magazine SUITCASE, a coffee-table magazine aimed at the modern traveller as well as a daily-updated website.
Natalie Smith, the magazine publishing director of Culture Trip, a global start-up operating in travel, media and entertainment.that has both a digital and in print offering.
Joana Ascenso, the Beauty Editor of Boyfriend Magazine, an independent fashion and beauty print on demand publication.
Throughout this article, an online platform called Kavyar is referenced. Kavyer enables (mostly independent) magazines to request submissions from freelance content creators who want to get their work published. Freelancers submit work and the magazines can choose to use the work or not. The freelancer is not paid for submitted work chosen by the magazines. In fact, freelancers have the option to pay for a Priority Update whereby they will receive a response regarding their submitted work within 72 hours. Each magazine sets its own fees.
Whilst not all magazines charge freelancers to submit to them on Kavyar, some magazines don’t offer a free submission option. Creators Magazine, for example, charge $21.99 for a priority submission with tear sheets given to the creative one week after the work is published. If your work is not chosen, you will not receive a refund.
Some magazines on the platform charge creatives for other services beyond publishing submissions. Vulkan Magazine offer advertising options such as a ‘cover advertorial,’ which is 8 pages of one brand for $3,500.
Imirage Magazine charges $20 to post two images on their Instagram page and Keyi Magazine charge $119 to showcase a portfolio on their website for ‘exposure’ and $39 for a front cover review. This means that your submission will be reviewed for the front cover spot. If you don’t get the cover spot, your work will be used on Keyi’s Facebook and Instagram, if you do get chosen, you have to pay an additional $150 to the magazine.
And where does this money go? Mostly, to the magazines themselves. However, Kavyar charges $0.99 plus 17.9% for each submission payment. Magazines who sign up to the service can receive unlimited submission regardless of whether they have free membership or $38 a month premium membership.
And now, to the interviews…
HAS DIGITAL CONTENT IMPACTED THE MAGAZINE INDUSTRY?
Daina Renton, Feroce Magazine (DR): “People say that a magazine is only going to survive in print if it lasts the first couple of issues and more often than not they aren’t surviving. Left, right and centre we are seeing the biggest magazines not getting printed anymore which is deterring people from creating new magazines.”
Tom Armstrong, MOVE Magazine (TA): “Before smartphones, you’d open up your laptop, go to your favourite magazine and read the articles of the day. You
could also make money from it as advertisers were really keen to advertise by the number of clicks and visitors. Then, everybody switched to looking at content through a smartphone and you just couldn’t serve as many advertisers as you could on a laptop. Print has now found a way to co-exist with digital — it doesn’t have to be one or the other. They both have a role.”
Alec Dudson, Intern Magazine (AD): “At the time [of launching the magazine], one of the points I wanted to make, quite emphatically, was that a lot of the youth culture magazines out there, that are still out there now, claim to be very much for a younger generation of people but they were the same magazines happily taking on unpaid interns and were having people contribute to them in exchange for exposure and no pay.
I wanted to prove that you could quite easily run a print magazine, pay everyone for their contributions and it be high-quality enough to sit next to those other publications on the shelves and we did that. If my mission remained to try and empower people from a diverse range of backgrounds, was creating a beautiful £10 print magazine with a print run of 3000 the best way to do it? Quite simply, no it wasn’t. The cost of overheads, the cost of distribution…. there were all kinds of obstacles that existed between us and the people that I wanted to reach so it became a natural move online. Our editorial very much now lives online. We’re also creating audio and video content. Print’s not going anywhere, it’s never gone. Like any other output, it adapts.”
Olivia Squire, SUITCASE Magazine (OS): “Google and Facebook have such a monopoly over online advertising spend. However, what happened to The Pool [a popular magazine founded in 2015 by Lauren Laverne and Sam Baker that abruptly closed, leaving many freelancers out of pocket] shows that online journalism is not foolproof. I think one of the great things about print, and particularly niche publications, is that they have a strong point of view that people are prepared to pay for.”
Natalie Smith, Culture Trip (NS): “Culture Trip started as a platform that actually sold books based on location. Our founder is very driven by location-based storytelling. I joined specifically to launch print at Culture Trip. It started as a digital blog-like platform that shared location-based content across different genres including food, film, architecture and art. We have always been digital first. We’ve amassed a huge audience online reaching nearly 20 million unique users a month with more than 8 million social media followers. What we didn’t have was a more tangible asset that really displayed our brand.”
“Print is definitely making a comeback — there’s huge hype for digital content, it influences our buying power and the decisions that we make, social media plays a big part in every bodies lives. However, brands are coming back to understanding that having that tactile offering is still really important for them. People just assumed that millennials loved digital and that’s the only way they interacted but actually when you look into it, millennials still love print content.”
Joana Ascenso, Boyfriend Magazine (JA): “The magazine platform is print on demand which is a very big thing for us. We don’t print bulk for many reasons, one being the environment and sustainability. So, the print issues that we put out are paid and printed on demand — anyone who wants them, has them. The other part of the magazine is online which is huge and very much the future of media.”
HOW DOES YOUR MAGAZINE MAKE MONEY?
OS, SUITCASE: “We launched a media agency about two years ago, so the print magazine, digital and the agency are all part of the same ecosystem. Our editorial is a showcase of what we can do for advertising and agency clients. We also make money the traditional way, through print sales (global circulation is 77,000 and readership is 212,000) and advertising.”
TA, MOVE: “If you want to make money, I wouldn’t recommend starting a print magazine. You can make money but it’s not going to be easy. It’s something that you’ve got to do as a passion really. I started the magazine by pulling in favours from mates and working with friends. I wrote a lot of the content myself.”
NS, Culture Trip: “Culture Trip launched after several successful rounds of funding and today, our revenue is generated from sponsored content. We already monetise in a number of ways from branded content partnerships with brands and a number of tourism boards, and also through our affiliate marketing programme. We’re launching our online travel agency later this year so people can book interesting and compelling experiences through us, too.”
“We distribute our print magazine free of charge and we’ve also kicked off our advertising.”
AD, Intern: “All our editorial is now online, so our online readership number is about 18k at the moment. We make money from sponsorship, partnerships, content co-creation and sale of products from our shop.”
JA, Boyfriend: “We’re very new, we’re self-funded — we don’t have publishers, we don’t have sponsors [Boyfriend charges $5.99 for submissions from creatives who want a quick response from them.] It is still very much a passion project, a personal project but the idea is to get to the point where we can pay contributors.”
HOW DO YOU SOURCE CONTENT?
DR, Feroce: “The majority of it is from submissions [content that is submitted to the magazine by freelancers who, if the work is printed, receive a credit in the magazine. The content is not paid for] where people just send us their work and we pick from them. Other times it’s a commission [content that the magazine pays for], so if there’s a particular feature or cover that I want to do or someone sends in a mood board wanting to produce something that they want help with then I’ll commission it. The rest is just working directly with people to produce the content. So it’s sent to us and funded by us but then people also collaborate with us to produce it as well.”
“We use email and Kavyar [to source content]. Kavyar [Feroce charges $250 for a submission that is guaranteed to make the cover of their magazine using this platform] is what’s throwing this part of the industry upside down at the moment. So, independent magazines used to just take submissions via email but since Kavyar, you can use their platform to submit to multiple magazines at once.”
TA, MOVE: “I have a small team. There’s me and another member of staff who’s been with me since day one — she doesn’t really have a title but helps with everything from the content to the events that we do, to marketing — she’s an all-rounder. Then I have another team member, she’s similar in that she doesn’t have a title and just helps with everything. Then there’s the publisher who’s kind of a mentor to me. He’s sold millions of magazines and he’s a friend of mine. I used to work with him. He gives me advice on everything. The whole thing is casual — we usually work from my front room.”
AD, Intern: “I’ve got a part-time member of staff, she helps a day or two a week and then usually we scale up and down on a project by project basis, the same way that we did with the magazine.”
OS, SUITCASE: “In house we’re a really small team, so it would be impossible for us to create everything on our own! For print, I try and write at least one long feature per issue and commission as many of the other people on our team who are strong writers as possible. The rest is a combination of freelance pitches I’ve received and freelancers I’ve commissioned to cover a particular trip.”
NS, Culture Trip: “We have our full time employees and then we have our hub network. We have people on the ground in different territories that produce content for us on a weekly basis. Sometimes, we may commission people for a one-off piece of content. At the minute, we do have a strong network of people who create a large portion of our content. Also, we’ve started to receive a ton of submissions as a halo effect to the press releases we distribute.
We’ve been lucky in the fact that we haven’t had to do extensive work to call for submissions. With our commissions, we tend to commission a freelance journalist for our lead story — someone who might be a specialist.”
JA, Boyfriend: “Everything comes from submissions from Kavyar. None of the work is commissioned yet. At the moment, there are three editors and we have freelancers that work with us for articles — some of them are submitted, some of them are from people we know that we’ve worked with before. We are very fortunate that the magazine has had a huge reception from the go.”
“For us, freelancers can pay to be prioritised during the submission process so that they can receive a quicker response. It doesn’t guarantee them publication, it just gives them a speedier response. The money goes back into producing the magazine.”
DO YOU PAY FREELANCERS FOR CONTENT?
DR, Feroce: “A lot of people argue that you don’t get anything out of these types of publications and I’m inclined to agree with them to an extent. When people have the expectations of an in circulation print magazine and they attach it to a ‘vanity publication,’ it’s not going to work out and you won’t get anything from it. So, for example, all of the makeup artists featured in our recent beauty issue are able to use the tear sheets from the issue to get their store cards and things like that because they have commission letters proving that they’ve worked with a magazine.”
“Stylists get to borrow clothes in the name of our magazine because we take liability for the clothes and therefore stylists are able to make connections with the PR companies. Magazines are more of an ‘in’ for people or a stepping stone onto something better. I do know people have ended up getting jobs or commissions from other magazines from having appeared in mine because of the level of quality control that we have. It depends on the values of the magazine, there’s so many variables of how it can benefit a freelancer, it just depends on what they’re after.”
TA, MOVE: “At the beginning of the magazine I didn’t really like commissioning freelancers because I couldn’t pay them. But people came to me and really liked the magazine and wanted to be a part of it. I was honest with them and said I don’t really have the money but if you want to be a part of MOVE and have a platform then go for it.” He continues “I’m just putting Issue 6 together now and we’re just getting to the point where we can pay people as the editorial budget has slightly increased. People email submissions or send via Instagram. It’s 80% commission and 20% submission.”
OS, SUITCASE: “I think freelancers like to work with us as we’re something of a rarity in the sense that there’s room to be a bit more expressive. It can be quite difficult to get the space to write a 2,000-word article in the era of online listicles. As an independent magazine our budgets, as you can imagine, aren’t huge, but we try and keep our rates competitive and be transparent when negotiating. I have a pool of writers and photographers who I work with that I really like, but we’re also always looking for new people with interesting ideas (writers, photographers and illustrators).”
“We don’t get people to write for free, we always pay something. It’s just about us being really transparent about it. I often say, ‘look this is my budget if it doesn’t work it’s completely fine,’ I want to compensate people fairly.”
NS, Culture Trip: “We always pay people for their work. We pay a competitive market rate and if we’re sending someone on a trip, then of course everything that goes with that will be covered. We are a company driven by creativity and we believe in paying fairly for that.”
JA, Boyfriend: “We haven’t paid anyone for anything yet, not because we don’t want to. Quite frankly, we can’t. That is the project for the future, where we can build the magazine to the point where we can get sponsors and we can get a publisher who will help us commission shoots and pay creatives. From the get go they [freelancers] know the reality of us not having the budget for us to pay them. We have had people who have submitted to us and then gone on to get paid jobs because of the work they have done for us — they’ve been signed to agencies and that makes us so happy.”
“From the submissions we receive, and we receive a lot, if they’re not right for the magazine we always try to give constructive feedback instead of just saying ‘no.’”
WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN FOR THE FUTURE?
DR, Feroce: “I don’t see magazines like this [independent publications] lasting for a very long time. Only the fittest keep going. A lot of Editors of magazines similar to mine are all sort of just one person doing it all while still having day jobs themselves. Like, their own magazine doesn’t even pay them, it’s really quite bizarre. So everyone’s acting like a hobbyist because they don’t have a choice but I think it [the independent magazine industry] is going to decline pretty rapidly, eventually.”
“There’s a lot of lies out there and magazines pretending that they are what they’re not and that really bothers me because it’s just not fair on contributors or people who are submitting. They think that they’re submitting to this big amazing magazine but a lot of them can’t provide Google stats and advertising rates that are actually well founded. The whole ‘fake it ‘till you make it’ thing has got way out of hand and I think it’s important for freelancers to realise that there’s not a lot to be gained, especially in monetary terms with publications online.”
OS, SUITCASE: “I do think that there is a place for independent print. I don’t know about the future for massive mainstream magazines, as online does disposable, of-the-moment content so well — they need to adapt their offering. I think for magazines like SUITCASE, with a really strong point of view and aesthetic, there will always be an audience.”
AD, Intern: “At the minute, we are looking to expand into new types of content. We’ve just recently launched a podcast series — in our pilot episode we investigate the gender pay gap in the creative industries. It’s about finding not just new platforms for content but about making sure that each new content platform solves a different problem for readers.”
NS, Culture Trip: “For the magazine industry, it can be a tough time. Certainly for weeklies it’s hard because the content that is published by them can be so out of date as its already hit the internet. But for specialist magazines, it’s all about storytelling. We’re very story driven. If you pick up a copy of Culture Trip in five years’ time it’s still relevant. I think it’s about inspiring people through stories rather than through what’s hot and what’s new.”
JA, Boyfriend: “Hopefully independent magazines are the future but with sponsors. Realistically, most of us in the industry have that goal. We do this because we love it and we want people to love it and actually get paid for it. “
“Brands nowadays are becoming more conscious and more sustainable and there’s so much more indie brands. So hopefully they will work with indie magazines.”
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